Life trajectory as a process of identity formation: The potential of narrative analysis

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In the contemporary highly differentiated society, culture and the symbolic processes within it are becoming increasingly important. The strengthening of symbolic mechanisms effect is obvious in many social phenomena, in particular in the transition to adulthood. The process of growing up and becoming an adult, as well as the image of adulthood itself, are transforming, which demands that social researchers seek for new conceptual resources for understanding the new nuances of the transition to adulthood in the contemporary society. Cultural psychology has developed the categorical apparatus that is quite sensitive to the symbolic processes within the personality development in the course of transition to adulthood. Cultural psychologists believe that every life trajectory as a process of personal identity development should be studied as determined by narratives and narration. However, despite the claim and intention to develop an approach that would take into account social factors (such as community influence, role of collective practices, and dominant social representations of adulthood) in fact, cultural psychologists prefer to conceptualize the nowadays social reality as reduced to the political and ideological discourses. Thus, cultural sociology can provide theoretical means for analyzing narratives of transition to adulthood as mainly collective processes, therefore discovering the symbolic mechanisms of transition to adulthood through life stories. With cultural sociology as a conceptual background for the development of appropriate tools for youth studies in sociology, there is a quite new research agenda, which consists of discovering genres and categorical repertoire of becoming an adult in narratives of the younger people. This can lead to the sociological reconstruction of categories that create the meaningful space of coming of age, from which young people draw resources to create meaningful narratives about their life trajectories in the past and future.

About the authors

E S Pavlenko

Center for Cultural Sociology and Anthropology of Education National Research University - Higher School of Economics

Author for correspondence.


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